Afghanistan must back words with deeds on corruption

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan government makes all the right noises about fighting corruption, but it has to follow words with deeds, the World Bank president said on Thursday.

Endemic official corruption, fuelled by the booming opium trade, undermines local and international support for the pro-Western Afghan government and weakens its struggle against the rising Taliban insurgency, analysts say.

“The government makes the right statements, but the truth will be in the telling over time and that is one area where we … are making it quite clear that the record has to be improved,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick told Reuters in an interview in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Thirty years of war has left Afghanistan with extremely weak institutions and a complex web of informal relationships that override loyalty to the state. Ongoing insecurity and billions of dollars of drugs money in the economy also add to the temptations for poorly paid civil servants struggling with rising prices.

Afghanistan was 172nd out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index last year.

Donors pledged some $20 billion in aid to Afghanistan at a conference in Paris last month, but made it clear President Hamid Karzai’s government had to do more to fight corruption in return.

“BIG QUESTION-MARK”

The Afghan government has recently drafted a new law which foresees an anti-corruption body reporting directly to Karzai, a special prosecutor and a special court to try suspects.

“The truth will be in the execution of that; the people that you pick, the follow-through,” said Zoellick at the end of a three-day visit that included a meeting with Karzai.

A clean-up has to be conducted ministry-by-ministry.

“For example we are working with the Education Ministry on trying to go after what they call ghost teachers; … people who did not even exist that money is being sent to,” he said.

The World Bank has committed more than $1.69 billion in grants and no-interest loans to Afghanistan since 2002 and also administers an independently audited trust fund through which donors can channel funds to the Afghan government.

But two-thirds of aid does not go through Afghan government coffers which weakens the legitimacy of the state. Development projects are often poorly coordinated, sometimes overlap or do not reach large sections of the populace, aid experts say.

“There is a reason why people go outside the government which is a lack of capacity or concerns about corruption; they want to make sure that they deliver the services,” said Zoellick. “But over the long term, the future of Afghanistan has to belong to the Afghan people, they have to develop this capacity.”

“I think over time will we need to move all the aid through the government channels but … it’s a question of how you get there,” Zoellick said.

The World Bank is working with Karzai and the government to improve its ability to provide services to the Afghan people and encourage it to weed out corruption.

But asked whether Karzai’s administration had the political will to tackle such an enormous and daunting problem, Zoellick said: “That is the big question-mark”.

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